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Peter Ramsey saw the traffic controller step out onto the pedestrian crossing, brandishing her stop sign, and slowed his car to a halt. A tribe of preschool children, kept in check by a couple of adults, were lined up on the sidewalk, waiting for it to be safe before heading over to the park on the other side of the road. They were all carrying lunch boxes.
Nice day for a picnic in the park, Peter thought, smiling at the happy little faces.
The appreciative comment from the traffic controller snapped his attention back to her. She had a wide infectious smile on her face, bright eyes dancing teasingly at him. Macho male in his BMW Z4 sports convertible being stopped for a pack of kids. She was enjoying her moment of power. Peter grinned back. I don't mind, babe.
She turned aside to help shepherd her flock across the road just as Peter registered a buzz of interest in his mind. He liked the look of her. Her jeans hugged a very pertly rounded backside and long shapely legs. She was tall enough to be a good fit with his height. The scooped neck top she wore showed off a small waist and very attractive breasts, fulsome but not too big to be out of proportion with the rest of her figure. She was a babe all right.
He even liked the fact that her hair was pulled up into a ponytaildark hair, almost black, the tail swishing as her head turned, keeping a watch over the safe passage of the children. She had a pert nose, too, slightly turned up at the end, and rather pixie-like ears, no lobes. Her skin was clear and shiny with good health. He couldn't see any make-up except for the light pink lipstick that matched the pink in her top. No artful attraction about this woman. She was a natural. Mid-twenties? Difficult to tell her age.
The last of the childrena little boygrabbed her free hand as though it was a highly prized connection, determined on pulling her along with him. I don't blame you, kid, Peter thought, noticing how the boy looked adoringly at her, which probably meant she was one of the teachers from the preschool, briefly taking on traffic control.
She turned to look straight at Peter again, flashing the lovely wide smile as she waved her Stop sign in a cheeky salute to his patience. He raised his own hand in response, his mouth automatically curving as he had the weird sense of a fountain of pleasure bursting through him. He watched her accompany the little boy to the sidewalk on the park side of the road, wanting to follow her, meet her properly.
A car horn beeped behind him.
He drove on reluctantly, telling himself the impulse was stupid. What would a preschool teacher have in common with him? It flashed through his mind that Princess Diana had worked with preschool children before she married Prince Charles. Their marriage might have gone bad but Diana had become the Queen of Hearts. She'd reached out to people, touched them
What woman had really touched him in recent years? Peter Ramsey, most eligible bachelor in Sydney, heir to billions and billionaire in his own right, and all too familiar with why he could have his pick of beautiful women. Which was fine for his sex life, but he had never been touched deeply enough for any attachment to last beyond an initial rush of lust. Maybe it was his fault. Maybe he had become too cynical about how much he was worth when it came to marriage.
Even the babe with the ponytail had she smiled at him because of the car he was driving?
The buzz of interest lingered.
Take a second look, it said. You've got the time. And the inclination.
After the deceitful artfulness of Alicia Hemmings his recent exit would be refreshing exciting to have a woman without any artifice responding to him. Especially in bed. No faking it with an eye to feathering her own nest. Smiling that lovely smile afterwards
Even while mentally mocking what was probably sheer fantasy, Peter turned his car into the next side street, spotted a parking space and took it. A quick button-press and the convertible hood lifted back in position for secure locking up. Preferring not to be connected to the driver of the BMW, he removed his cap, sunglasses, jacket, tie, undid the neck buttons on his shirt, rolled up his sleeves, then stepped out for an idle stroll through the park.
It was possible he could be recognised as Peter Ramsey, given his high media profile, but who would believe it when he was so out of place? Besides, it didn't matter anyway. The woman would be surrounded by children, hardly an appropriate time or place to make himself known to her in any sense. Pursuing this impulse was ridiculous, yet the compulsion to go on, if only to satisfy a niggling sense of curiosity about her, had become irresistible. She was different to the usual run of women who peopled his world.
A corner shop provided him with sandwiches and a can of cola and he carried them into the park, feeling as though it would look perfectly reasonable for him to be having his lunch there. In fact, he was enjoying the novelty of it, enjoying the pretend game of being just anyone. Acting on this particular impulse was definitely not boring.
The children were seated on the grass, shaded from the midday sun by the widely spread branches of a Moreton Bay Fig. They were all looking enthralled at the ponytail babe who was apparently telling them a story. Peter settled on a nearby bench seat where he could surreptitiously watch and listen to the story-teller.
Her face was full of animation, very watchable. She also had a voice worth listening to. It lilted beautifully as she recited the rhyming verses of a fairy talea charming story about a princess with a magic rainbow smile and a heart of gold who'd come from the land of Evermore to bring joy to all the children.
Of course, there was the villain of the piecea sneaky kid who always wore black and was really a ratwho set out to spoil every bit of happiness and spread lies about the princess, making her disappear from the children's lives. But one small boy didn't believe the rat's trickery and he cried out in a mighty lion's roar, bringing the princess back from the land of Evermore and exposing the rat for the stinking, rotten liar he was.
Standard stuffgood triumphing over evilyet Peter was completely captivated by the rhyming verses and the perfectly pitched emotional delivery of them. The preschoolers listening so avidly to every word, actually came in on some lines as though they knew much of the story by heart, especially the lion's roar bit. It had tremendous appeal and no doubt came from a popular children's book. Peter decided to look for it, buy it as a gift for his nephew some time in the near future.
Once the last line had been recited, the children clapped and jumped up to form a dancing ring. There was a bit of a scuffle over who got to hold the story-teller's hands. One of the other adults dryly advised, "You'd better be the princess in the middle, Erin."
And she was great with the children, all of whom clearly adored her.
He was feeling very attracted to this woman, and not just on a physical level, though her sexual appeal was certainly getting stronger by the moment. He imagined her telling him fairy tales in bed erotic ones like Sheherazade, keeping her sultan entranced with her stories, making every night too good to miss.
He'd like that.
So how was he going to meet Princess Erin in an acceptable fashion?
She could be married for all he knew, or attached to some guy she was in love with. Peter didn't care for that thought one bit, quickly brushing it aside to concentrate on what tactic would give him the result he wanted.
There was no easy in here, not like for his friend and now brother-in-law, Damien Wynter, who'd taken one look at Peter's sister and charged straight into getting Charlotte to marry him instead of the fortune-hunter who'd almost had a wedding ring on her finger.
He remembered asking Damien how he knew Charlotte was the one for him. The answer was still imprinted on Peter's mind.
"There's a buzz in your brain that tells you not to miss out on what you could have with this woman. She fits what you've been waiting for."
Were his instincts telling him that Erin might be the one? The mocking voice of past experience said that was jumping too far too fast. Right now he was hooked enough to know he didn't want to walk away from her, shutting a door that might lead to something good, something better than he'd had in the past. No matter how unlikely it was
The startled cry of alarm came from one of the teachers as a man charged the circle of dancing children and grabbed one of the little boys, snatching him up in his arms and hugging him tightly against his shoulder.
"He's my son!" he threw at the three women who started toward him, protesting his action. It was like an animal growl, fiercely possessive, and the man backed away, eyeing them wildly, still clutching the boy to his chest.
The women argued with him.
The children started wailing, agitated by the sense of volatile conflict that had so suddenly erupted.
Peter sprang into action, catching snatches of the argument as he circled the Moreton Bay Fig to come around behind the threatening kidnapper.
"I'm his father. I've got every right to take Thomas with me."
"We're responsible for him, Mr Harper. His mother left him with us for the day and "
"His mother took him from me. He's my son!"
"You need to sort this out with your wife."
"She won't let me have him but she dumps him with you people who are nothing to him. Nothing! I'm his father!"
"We'll have to call the police if you take Thomas."
"Mr Harper, this is not a good move. If you end up in jail, you'll never see your son." That was Erin's voice, gently pleading reason.
A high crazed laugh derided any reasonableness. "There's justice for you. I do nothing wrong but I lose my son and my cheating bitch of a wife just gets him given to her."
"You have to take this to the family court," Erin pressed. "You'll get a fair hearing."
"Nothing's fair!" The exploding anger cracked into spurts of tears as grief and despair poured from him.
"She's told a stack of lies about me to her big-shot lawyer. I've got no chance except this. No chance! You tell my wife she's welcome to her money-bags lover, but taking my son no no no "
The tortured sobs of the man were gut-wrenching. He was shaking his head, backing away from Erin in a blind stumble.
"I'm calling the police," one of the other teachers said, a cell phone already in her hand.
"Don't!" Peter commanded as he moved in and clamped an arm around the bereft father's heaving shoulders, stopping and supporting him.
Erin lifted a startled gaze to his. "Who are you?" she asked.
She had green eyes.
Beautiful green eyes.
And Peter felt a compelling urge to answer every question in them. Except he didn't want to throw the weight of his name around with her.
"I'm just a guy who hates to see another man reduced to tears," he said, then shot a look of incisive authority at the teacher with the phone. "Stop that right now. I'll take care of this. Calling in the police will only make everything worse."
"I'm in charge of these children," the woman argued. She was a good deal older than Erin, maybe in her fifties, iron-grey hair cut short, plump figure, and puffing herself up officiously. "I have to answer to Mrs Harper about what happens to Thomas."
"Nothing is going to happen to Thomas," Peter assured her. "Mr Harper just needed to hold his son for a few minutes. Fair enough in the circumstances, wouldn't you say?"
"He has to give him back," the woman insisted.
"Yes. And you can trust me to see that he does. I'm big enough to do it. Okay?"
The man he was holding was too shattered to put up a fight and would have no hope of winning against Peter even if he did pull himself together.
The woman protesting his interference took stock of Peter's heightwell over six feet tallhis broad, muscular shoulders and powerful physique, all of which made him a formidable opponent in any arena. Harper was a relatively small man, the top of his head barely reaching Peter's chin, his far more slender frame almost dwarfed in comparison. If it came to physical force, it was obvious who would end up controlling the situation.
"Make him give the boy back now," the woman demanded.
The boy spoke for himself. "I want my daddy. I love my daddy." He flung his little arms around his father's neck and snuggled his head close. "Don't cry, Daddy, I don't like you crying."
Tearing him away from his father would be brutal. There were other, kinder solutions to this situation. "Let's take a bit of time to calm everything down," Peter directed at the woman, trying to engender a spark of sympathy. "I'm going to walk Mr Harper over to that park bench " He nodded to where he'd seated himself earlier. "He can sit with Thomas while you supervise the other children at play."
"They're all upset now," she protested. "We should take them back to the kindergarten and settle them down."
Peter switched his attention to Erin whom he found looking straight at him, a curious wonder in her lovely, luminous green eyes. Desire hit him hard and fast. Close up to her like this, any lingering doubt about pursuing this woman completely disintegrated. The adrenaline rush in his blood, the tingling in his groinnothing jaded about these feelings. He wanted her and he was going to have her.
"Tell them another story," he suggested, smiling to push the connection that had to be made. "You're very good at it. I was listening to you while I ate my lunch. I'm sure you can make any trauma fade away."
A twitch of a smile back. "Thank you. I think that's a good idea."